Bernhard Wittweiler, what was the trigger for you to take on your position at SUISA almost 30 years ago?
Bernhard Wittweiler: Sometime in the spring of 1994, Andreas Wegelin told me that the position of Head of the Legal Department had become vacant, and he asked me if I would be interested in the position. Since I was about to leave the law firm where I had been working back then, his request came just at the right time. I saw this as a great opportunity, applied and got the job.
How has SUISA and the work in the legal service changed since 1994?
There would be a lot to tell. First and foremost, it surely is the advent of the internet, which has fundamentally changed the production and distribution of music. Many new legal questions arose. In the beginning, in the 1990s and the decade following the 1990, many things were unclear and controversial, and it felt like the Wild West. Then, of course, the development of IT in general has strongly influenced and changed the way SUISA worked and also the tasks of the Legal Department. The enforcement of copyrights has become increasingly difficult and costly over time. More and more people don’t see why they should pay for the use of creations and creative services. The need for explanation has grown continuously. The Legal Department has also grown and dealt with more and more areas of law. In the course of time, we developed into a comprehensive service centre in legal matters for SUISA as a whole.
What are the most frequent questions you get asked in SUISA’s Legal Department?
A perennial favourite is, of course: How do I protect my compositions and how do I prevent them from being “stolen” or otherwise misused by others. Then there are the specific cases in which we are asked whether there is plagiarism or the adoption of parts of songs at least. Many questions also come up in connection with the use of music in movies and videos and with the online distribution of music.
You also fought disputes for SUISA in court. Which ones do you remember particularly well and why?
These are the cases where the stakes were particularly high: In the late 1990s, against Joe’s video shop chain, which challenged the rental right and thus the CT 5 (Common Tariff 5) at the time. Later, the application of the concert tariff, the CT K, and in that process the ballet rule, was repeatedly disputed, namely in the lawsuits against the pre-Carnival revue “Mimösli” in Basel and against the Basel Tattoo event. Proceedings in connection with the collapse of the concert promoter Free & Virgin also made some waves.
Were there also legal cases that are “amusing”, or let’s say anecdotal in nature, that you can and are allowed to talk about?
In a criminal case, a concert promoter was fined at SUISA’s request. On my way out of the courtroom, the convicted party asked me if I would come and have a beer with them.
During your work for SUISA, you have witnessed several reviews of the Swiss copyright law. To what extent were you and SUISA involved in the review process and what do you think about the development of copyright?
We closely accompanied the reviews in each case. The aim was to assess the proposals of the Federal Council and Parliament, to develop counter-proposals if necessary, and to influence the legislative process – in other words, actual lobbying work. In this process, I also participated as SUISA’s representative on the Board of Suisseculture, the umbrella organisation of the associations of professional cultural workers. It has always been very difficult to fight against the interested circles, unfortunately including academia, who wanted to weaken copyright protection in favour of the “free internet”. We were rather trying to adequately expand protection of creators and adapt it to the internet age. The result often achieved was a typically Swiss, “knotty” compromise or a complicated special solution. We managed to prevent the worst in each case at least.
With artificial intelligence, NFT or direct licensing, copyright and collective management organisations are facing further challenges. Will SUISA still exist in 100 years and how can it hold its ground in this changing environment?
Artificial intelligence is likely to lead to a real paradigm shift for copyright and collective management organisations. How that will turn out cannot be estimated at this point. If SUISA succeeds in continuing to manage the rights entrusted to it effectively, efficiently and simply in the future, i.e. if it succeeds in offering real added value to the rights owners, its members, it will still exist in 100 years.
What are your plans for the future?
On the one hand, I use my knowledge and experience in the legal field as a consultant in a law firm specialising in intellectual property. On the other hand, I would like to devote myself to my cultural interests – music, fine arts, architecture, film – to be outdoors and spend time in nature and to maintain and expand my social relationships.
What else would you like to say about your time at SUISA?
In the Legal Department, I (almost) always had a great team that was a pleasure to work with. The working atmosphere was marked by trust, objectivity, support and recognition. As such, I can look back on an interesting, exciting and fulfilling working life at SUISA. What more could you want?
New Head of Legal Services
In his position as Head of SUISA’s Legal Department, Bernhard Wittweiler was succeeded by RA Dr. iur. Oliver Schmid as of 1 January 2023. Oliver Schmid, born in 1986, graduated summa cum laude in law from the University of Zurich. During his studies he completed internships in various law firms. After graduation, he was a research assistant with a focus on copyright law at the Chair of Intellectual Property and Competition Law. He was editor at the “sic! Zeitschrift für Immaterialgüter-, Informations- und Wettbewerbsrecht” (Journal for Intellectual Property, Information and Competition Law) and at the employment law journal ARV as well as author of various scientific publications. After obtaining the licence to practice law in 2019, he gained practical experience as an independent lawyer. Subsequently, he was co-leader of several Innosuisse third-party funded projects. Since 2021, he holds a doctorate in law and is now an adjunct professor at the University of Zurich responsible for the course Licence Agreement and Licence Antitrust Law. In 2022, Oliver Schmid joined SUISA’s legal service as an employee, which he took over as head in 2023.